It’s a well-known eyesore with a little-known history.
The Hotel Eddystone, located at 100-118 Sproat St. at Park Avenue and near the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park, was once part of Detroit’s most successful hotel empire.
The Eddystone was the first of three Italian Renaissance hotels built on Park Avenue in the 1920s for Lew Tuller, the owner of the renowned Hotel Tuller. This period in Detroit’s history saw a number of the Motor City’s most treasured landmarks rise on the skyline. Between 1910 and 1920, the city’s population jumped from 465,766 to 993,739. That’s an increase of 113 percent. Many came to work in Detroit’s factories.
With Detroit’s population booming, and tourists were flocking in droves to see the city that put the world on wheels. This led to the demand for hotels to soar, too. From 1924-1925, nearly two dozen hotels were built in the downtown area, adding 5,441 rooms. It’s important to remember in this day and age, that many people lived in these hotels; they were not used by only out-of-town visitors.
Tuller had become an incredibly successful hotelier with the Hotel Tuller, which he opened in 1906. It was a gamble. The hotel was north of downtown in a rather swampy part of town without much commercial business or action. But as Detroit boomed, so did the hotel – and so did Tuller’s fortune. By the 1920s, the Hotel Tuller was known as the Grand Dame of Grand Circus Park, and it was said that mail from distant parts that was addressed to residents at the Hotel Tuller without any city indicated would still reach guests.
Mere blocks from the Tuller was the Park Avenue district, a major destination for businesses, shopping and nightlife - and it was fast becoming the ideal spot for hotels. It was located near major streetcar lines and a stone’s throw from Detroit’s financial district. The Statler Hotel, another landmark, was in the area, as was the Hotel Charlevoix and others. In 1923, a group of men who owned buildings and land in the district formed the Park Avenue Association, which set out to turn the neighborhood into Detroit’s version of Fifth Avenue in New York.
Lew Tuller gambled again. He hired architect Louis Kamper – the man who designed the celebrated Book-Cadillac Hotel – to extend his own hotel empire. He had Kamper design three large residential hotels north of Grand Circus Park, all standing 13 stories: the 156-room Eddystone, which opened in December 1924; the 250-room Park Avenue, which opened in 1925 next door to the Eddystone; and the 180-room Royal Palms at Park and Montcalm, which also opened in 1925. The three hotels cost Tuller between $6 million and $8 million, ($76.5 million to $102 million today, when adjusted for inflation).
They were all built within a year and gave Tuller more than 1,375 rooms in the city. Combined, the four hotels were worth $12 million in 1926, more than $144 million today.
“I could see a great big, prosperous, growing Detroit plainer in the last six months than ever before,” Tuller told Pipp’s Magazine in March 1926. “You cannot help but feel that Detroit is going to hum.”
But Detroit was humming too much: the city added more than 20 hotels between 1923 and 1926. Like many Detroiters enjoying the boom times, Tuller had overreached himself. The steep rise in competition led Tuller’s three new hotels to struggle, and, combined with a series of unsuccessful real estate speculation in Florida and the onset of the Depression, Tuller went broke. The Tuller Hotel remained successful for a time and supported his other hotels, but he lost them one by one.
Foreclosure proceedings began in March 1928 on the Eddystone and the Royal Palms. He lost the Eddystone that year to the Security Trust Co., which quickly flipped the Eddystone to David P. Katz. Katz made his fortune off Detroit real estate and hotels, including Tuller’s Park Avenue and the Hotel Fort Wayne in Detroit and another in Miami Beach, Fla.
Katz would own the Eddystone for nearly four decades, until a $2 million fraud scheme that was discovered in 1966 sank his businesses.
The rest of the Eddystone’s story is a well-known one. A combination of factors -including the 1967 riot; the introduction of the freeway system; white flight; businesses moving to the suburbs; and increase in blight and crime – bled Detroit of its population and its tax base. Office towers went dark. Hotels closed up shop. Detroit, simply put, became a city of fewer people – and people with lower incomes.
But the Eddystone managed to survive for longer than most. The building remained a transient hotel until the late 1990s before it finally closed.
Plans were announced in the early 2000s that a developer would convert the Eddystone and its sister the Park Avenue Hotel into about four dozen luxury condos with ground-floor retail. The Detroit City Council told the Historic Designation Advisory Board on July 20, 2005, to study the proposed Eddystone Hotel Historic District in an attempt to help the building secure historic tax credits to aid in its redevelopment. A similar one-building district was proposed for the Park Avenue. The reborn Eddystone was to open in the fall of 2009.
But the development never came. The Eddystone continues to sit a ghostly spectre towering over the Cass Corridor. Whether it will one day be redeveloped or will be demolished as part of a long-rumored new hockey arena north of Interstate 375 remains to be seen.
More on this landmark of Detroit coming soon.